3 Pointers About Tutoring and Learning Biostatistics and SAS

I have tutored several students in biostatistics (SAS, but also SPSS) through WyzAnt, and have picked up a few pointers for tutors and students alike.

1. Professors like it "their way": There are many ways to accomplish the same operation in computer programming, especially in such an extensive language as SAS. However, professors generally will grade down if the student does not do it the way the professor lays out in the homework. "Data steps" are especially risky for this - but I have rarely seen two SAS programmers accomplish the same data editing with exactly the same code.

2. Excel is a great teacher and calculator. The reason it's a great calculator is that you can actually program formulas, and some are quite advanced - t-tests, ANOVA, etc. The reason it's a good teacher is that you can put all your variables on the spreadsheet and even label them, then simply refer to them in formulas. Doing this with an odds ratio (OR) is informative, because as you update the cells in the Excel table, you can see the OR change.

3. Telling the story, complete with emotion, helps people learn statistics. Connecting mathematical reasoning to emotion has been shown in research to enhance learning. Most biostatistics problems are "story problems" that use generic terms like Disease X, and Usual Care vs. Experimental Treatment. I look at the problem and try to find a real disease, a real "usual care", and a real "experimental treatment" (well, you can be a little silly here!) that fits the story problem so the student can really feel the question. We imagine the participants in the study, and we imagine the calculations we make actually applying to real people. It helps us to interpret the results in a meaningful way.

I'd be interested if anyone has any feedback about my pointers, or has any pointers to add. Happy studying/tutoring!


Thanks for the great tips, Monika! I recently completed my second SAS-based tutoring series and your first point is right on - the second student's course was SO much different from the first's! I'll use your Excel trick for ORs. Thanks again!
Hi; as a retired biostatistician who has worked over 35 years in the pharmaceutical industry and now teach at the college level, SAS skill is a must to crack into the job market.  SAS is the gold standard for the health sciences and economics.  Jobs that are posted state that SAS is a big plus.  Rarely does a job posting state SPSS.  In addition, when doing ANOVA in EXCEL, the software requires equal sample sizes when doing a 2-way or multiple comparisons.  (Tukey is the only MC method available).
Just my thoughts;
if (isMyPost) { }